China has not invited the World Health Organization to take part in an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak, according to the global health authority’s representative in the country.
Dr. Gauden Galea told Sky News on Friday: “We know that some national investigation is happening but at this stage, we have not been invited to join.”
“The origins of virus are very important, the animal-human interface is extremely important and needs to be studied,” he added. “The priority is we need to know as much as possible to prevent the reoccurrence.”
Galea said he expected to get an update from the Chinese government soon, but had not so far been asked to collaborate.
The news comes amid a growing international dispute over how the pandemic began in China late last year.
On Thursday, President Donald Trump said he was confident the coronavirus may have originated at the state-backed Wuhan Institute of Virology, but declined to describe the evidence.
“Yes, yes I have,” he said, declining to give specifics. “I can’t tell you that. I’m not allowed to tell you that.”
The Wuhan Institute of Virology has dismissed similar allegations, and other U.S. officials have downplayed their likelihood. Most experts believe the virus originated in a market selling wildlife in Wuhan and jumped from animals to people.
During the Sky News interview, Galea said the WHO had not been given access to laboratory logs at the institute or at the Wuhan Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Friday, May Day, is a public holiday in China and Chinese officials were not immediately available for comment on Galea’s comments.
Trump has questioned China’s handling of the crisis and cast doubt on its official death toll — comments which were challenged this week by a senior Chinese government official, who criticized the United States’ response to its own outbreak.
Trump has also attacked the WHO for its handling of the crisis, and announced April 14 that he was halting funding to the organization pending a review of its response to the initial coronavirus outbreak in China.
Galea added weight to doubts over the Chinese figures. Referring to the low number of coronavirus cases China reported between Jan. 3-16, he said: “Is it likely that there were only 41 cases for that period of time? I would think not.”
Australia has also called for a public inquiry into the origin of the outbreak.
Galea declined NBC News’ request for comment but the WHO said in a statement that the evidence pointed toward COVID-19 having an animal source and not being human-made, and called for more investigation.
“It is our understanding that a number of investigations to better understand the source of the outbreak in China are currently underway or planned… WHO is not currently involved in the studies in China.
“WHO would be keen to work with international partners and at the invitation of the Chinese Government to participate in investigation around the animal origins.”
Reuters contributed to this report.